The state of Ohio has attained considerable notoriety for its workers comp program. Unfortunately, the fame derives from a scandal, dubbed Coingate, in which high level officials were implicated in the diversion and theft of comp funds. There are a number of political operatives spending this Thanksgiving in jail. Now we read of a state senator who has proposed legislation to explicitly exclude undocumented workers from the Ohio comp system. It appears that one bad turn in Ohio deserves another.
We all recognize the ambiguous state of undocumented workers in the American workforce. But virtually all states - with the exception of sparsely populated Wyoming - have provided comp coverage to illegal workers once they are injured. It's a matter of common sense and fundamental decency: we may question how these workers came here, but once hired and in the workforce, they must be afforded the same protections given to other workers. Otherwise, we create a second-class workforce subject to exploitation and substandard working conditions - not exactly the American way.
Turkey of a Bill
Enter one Bill Seitz, a state senator who graduated summa cum laude from the University of Cincinnati and from the University of Cincinnati School of Law, where he was Law Review and Order of the Coif. I have no idea what "Order of the Coif" is, but you can see Bill having a reasonably good hair day here.
Seitz says he was shocked to learn that the Ohio Bureau of Workers Comp does not require injured workers to document their status before receiving benefits. (Why is he shocked? No state has any such requirement.)
According the AP:
Seitz's bill would place the burden of proof on the injured worker to demonstrate he or she is a legal worker by showing documentation such as a birth certificate or a visa. It would establish immunity from civil lawsuits for businesses in cases in which their workers' claims are denied by the bureau because the worker is illegal, except in cases in which the business knew the worker was illegal or if it intentionally hurt the worker.
I particulary like the immunity from civil suits. This bill would not just eliminate the "exclusive remedy" of comp - it would strip away any remedy for injured, undocumented workers. It's an invitation to employers to actively recruit illegal workers: they won't be held responsible for hiring them, they won't have any responsibility for workplace injuries that occur and they can avoid other forms of liability, provided, of course, that they did not "intentionally hurt" the worker. Seitz has stacked the deck against an already vulnerable population.
David Leopold, a Cleveland attorney and president-elect of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, thinks Seitz is engaged in a publicity stunt. "It seems to me to be a waste of time to even be talking about this. Beyond being cruel, it's senseless because it's not going to address the problem. If he has no statistics to back this up, he hasn't shown a problem exists."
As all of us gather for this most generous of our holidays, let's give thanks for our many blessings. Let's say a prayer for all of the families - native born, immigrant, legal and undocumented - struggling to make ends meet in this most difficult of times. And let's hope that the good people of Ohio focus on fixing the real problems in their comp system, not the imaginary ones that trouble the waking hours of the well-dressed, well-coifed Mr. Seitz.